The Privilege of a Wasted Youth

What do a Canadian magazine, an American punk band, a new novel and Meat Loaf have in common? Their names all invoke the pain and loss of a wasted youth. It strikes me that a wasted youth is quite a privilege.

For millions of young people around the world, wasting their youth is simply not an option. This wasted youth embodies a perfect balance between “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” and getting good grades, having good friends and sharing good times. It either makes people fawn for rebellion, running away, or soaking up the good life – and then, and only then, will you not have wasted your youth.

Meanwhile, this dream is only that. Fast food restaurants and strip mall stores drown a lot of youth with minimum wages they contribute back to their corporate parents. Schools suffocate high-performing students with opportunities and strangle enthusiasm for learning from those who don’t score well on standardized tests. All of these young people are drawn into believing the alternate myths about apathy or self-promotion as they stand in front of mirrors to measure themselves and their own stories against the myth of “wasted youth.”

What does this myth mean to someone who has absolutely no access to American culture? How can we juxtapose “wasted youth” against the background of the Iraq war or Darfur conflict? What does a wasted youth look like to a young person who grew up in Belfast in the 1970s or East Berlin in the late 1940s, or Hiroshima or anywhere else the American dream simply does not make sense – which seems to be most other places these days.

What does “wasted youth” mean when you don’t have a “youth” at all? Lately I’m more attentive to a popular myth about there being no word for youth in a number of societies, including the American Indian, Spanish or Aboriginal Australian cultures. What would it mean if you grew up without the identity of being neither a child or an adult, but rather something in between? How would it affect you to know that all time is good time, and there’s no such thing as a wasted youth?

“Wasted youth” – what a privilege.

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